PARIS – The face of French politics changed dramatically in May and June. First, after 17 years of center-right presidents, François Hollande, a Socialist, was elected. Then, a month later, a center-left majority took control of the National Assembly, too, after ten years of right-wing domination.
Meanwhile, the Senate, the French parliament’s upper house, a conservative bastion between the two world wars and ever since, swung to a Socialist majority for the first time in history at the end of 2011. The Socialists also control 20 of France’s 22 regional governments, a majority of the presidencies of the Departments, and most cities with more than 30,000 inhabitants. In short, we are now witnessing a stunning concentration of power that is unprecedented in French republican history.
All of this occurred very peacefully, with no wave of triumphalism, or even much enthusiasm. Indeed, the abstention rate for a presidential election had never been higher before the contest between Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy.
France’s profound political shift reflects the persistence of the economic crisis that began in 2008. French electors did not vote for a dream. The Socialist Party’s program and its presidential candidate’s campaign promises were considerably less ambitious than they were in 1981, when François Mitterrand was elected.